When you hear about Monument Valley, scenes from popular films like ‘Mission Impossible II,’ ‘Forrest Gump,’ and the HBO series, ‘Westworld’ come to mind.
However, this iconic landscape has much more to offer than movie-worthy sceneries. The colossal mesas, panoramic vistas, and large sandstone bluffs towering over the vast desert floor aren’t landscapes you see every day.
A two-to-three-hour drive should get you visiting the desert’s main sites, but if you want to explore all its entrails, plan a day’s trip. Like any other tourist destination, there are best and worst times to visit.
The next part of the article details the best time to visit Monument Valley, the worst and the least busy time, and things you should consider when visiting. Let us be your guide!
Why You Should Visit Monument Valley
Monument Valley’s location (on the Arizona-Utah border) could make anyone skeptical about visiting this red-sand desert region.
However, its fascinating natural features consisting of towering sandstone buttes, hiking trails, and cultural attractions, make visiting this outstanding destination worthwhile.
Monument Valley is best explored through the rough 17-mile dirt road, which starts at the visitor center and winds through the park.
It’s accessible through Highway-191, which stretches to Highway-163, leading you to the long stretch of highway running deep into Monument Valley. There are 11 designated stopping points along the long rough road, each numbered and marked with the formation nearby.
The most notable attractions are the Mitten Buttes located on the East and West of Monument Valley. The formations resemble large mittens rising from the ground hence their names.
If you want a clear view of the pair of buttes, head to the south. They appear to have been placed on the desert floor on purpose. Your next stop should be at the Elephant Butte, which resembles an elephant, then the Three Sisters Formations.
They get their name from their unique form, which consists of three tall, narrow fingers at the edge of the large plateau.
Another stop is at John Ford’s Point, named after John Ford, a film director who featured it in many movie scenes. It’s still used in many films, creating a lasting image of the American west. John Ford’s Point also provides the best view of Monument Valley.
You may make stops at the other designated stops, including The Hub, the Sand Spring, The Thumb, and Camel Butte, to mention a few.
Your next visit should be to the Goulding Film and Cultural History Museum, an excellent educational resource and introduction to other scenic points in the valley.
The Goulding family set up the Museum, and they’re credited with putting Monument Valley on the map. A stroll around the Museum allows you to learn about the community’s history and view the photographs and artifacts.
It’s also an opportunity to learn about the Navajo, a community that traded and sold goods and wares amongst themselves. They used to trade at Oljato Navajo Trading Post, a trading post that’s still in operation.
It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and you can buy old Navajo crafts, books, and jewelry as souvenirs of the Navajo community.
A drive further down the 17-mile road leads you to the Wildcat trail, perfect for short hiking trips. The four-mile loop takes you back into the Wild West, featuring famous rock formations like the Merrick Butte and Mitten Buttes.
You’ll also come across the Valley of the Gods on your way to or from Monument Valley. This scenic sandstone resembles a miniature Monument Valley with red and brown buttes, mesas, and mushroom rocks.
The road to the Valley of Gods is steep and bumpy, but it’s still accessible using non-four-wheel drive vehicles during dry weather. A visit to Monument Valley isn’t complete without visiting the famous Mexican Hat.
Located 20 miles northeast of Monument Valley, the Mexican Hat is a photogenic rock formation between Monument Valley and Moki Dugway. It resembles a sombrero with a wide brim protruding above a narrow head.
The Mexican Hat is also a famous climbing spot, with Jack Turner, Stam Mish, Dan Langmade, and Royal Robbins climbing to the summit. It’s also famed for crazy climber antics. A bunch of climbers once scaled the summit naked for a fake Old Rock and Ice Magazine ad.
Overall Best Time to Visit Monument Valley
The best time to visit Monument Valley is in spring (April to May) and Fall (September to October), when the temperatures are warmer.
The winter season has just ended, bringing the temperatures to highs of 45 to 72 Fahrenheit. The spring breeze is still cool at night, and there’s a probability of extreme winds than any other month of the year.
The spring season is a great time to explore Monument Valley off-road because the pathways and landscapes are free of the winter snow. They’re stunning and may get crowded as many off-road motorists come here to test their skills on 4×4 vehicles.
Come May, the temperature increases to 55 to 80 Fahrenheit. The weather during the day is warm enough to go for hikes and explore the valley’s bluff formations, and the evenings aren’t as chilly as the previous months.
It’s also an excellent time for outdoors enthusiasts to go rock climbing on the fascinating mesas. Fall is also a great time to visit because the temperatures are tolerable (21-34 C).
Monument Valley gets pretty busy during this period as tourists who don’t like the large summer crowds visit.
Camping sites like the Hummingbird Campsite, Sleeping Bear Campgrounds, and Mustang Valley Campsite are accessible, as well as budget-friendly and high-end accommodations. Note that camping in the valley is restricted to those with backpacking permits.
Cheapest Time to Visit Monument Valley
The cheapest time to visit Monument Valley is in February. You enjoy discounted rates on flights, accommodation, and rental vehicles.
The weather is still excellent as temperatures range from 42 to 55 Fahrenheit, perfect for winter camping. Monument Valley is home to various campgrounds, including the View Campground, Arrowhead Campground, Mustang Valley Campground, and Tipi Village.
Tipi Village is particularly popular because it has the most stunning views of the sandstone bluffs. It’s well-equipped for those bringing their food, and visitors can reserve a tipi depending on the number of people visiting.
With smaller crowds and slightly warmer weather, February is also an excellent time to visit the famous shooting locations featured in Hollywood movies. Be sure to book a tour with Navajo guides to access them.
Least Busy Time to Visit Monument Valley
The least busy time to visit Monument Valley is during the winter months (December to March). The weather is particularly chilly in December and January because temperatures drop to 29 Fahrenheit.
Some areas receive snow, allowing you to view the beautiful red rocks covered in snow. The days are shorter in December, sometimes only nine hours of sunlight.
The night skies are clear and incredibly beautiful, with fewer day hours, displaying many galaxies. During this period, Monument Valley is often referred to as the dark skies’ territory. If visiting, you may be lucky to see the moon cycles.
At the beginning of January, the weather is warmer, causing the snow to melt. The 17-mile dirt road also gets clearer hence a great time to visit the Valley’s highlights without the large summer crowds.
Worst Time to Visit Monument Valley
The worst time to visit Monument Valley is during summer (June to August). They’re the hottest and the busiest months as tourists come here to enjoy the summer holiday.
Temperatures are extremely high in July, sometimes recording highs of 97 Fahrenheit. The nights get a little cool due to the high-temperature range, and it’s common to experience heavy downpours.
The summer season is an excellent time to explore the short hiking trails albeit the scorching heat. The Wildcat, Navajo Tribal Park, and the Monument Valley OHV Loop trails are great places to explore Monument Valley if you have a backcountry permit.
It’s best to start your hiking journey early in the day to avoid getting caught up in the blazing afternoon heat. If not, wait until the sunset hours when the weather is cooler.
It’s also the best time to capture the panoramic views of the Valley. With the clouds beginning to form later in August, the skies form a beautiful backdrop on Monument Valley.
Things to Consider
Beyond knowing the best time to visit Monument Valley, a few tips could make your experience here better:
- Prepare for the mid-day traffic: The summer season gets pretty busy, with viewing points getting packed to the brim. To avoid the long traffic queues, arrive early in the morning or just before lunch.
- Monument Valley isn’t a national park: It’s part of Navajo Nation’s territory and not a national park. This means the opening hours vary depending on the time of the year. It’s best to check the website for the actual opening hours before heading to the Valley.
- Bring warm clothing: If planning to camp, bring a jacket, fleece jacket, and other warm clothing because it gets pretty cold at night.
- Be ready to self-drive: Monument Valley is best explored by car, so you must be ready to drive. If you can’t drive, the next best option is to join a multi-day journey via an organized tour.
- A visit to Monument Valley isn’t a day’s trip: Monument Valley is quite far from most cities. The closest cities (Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, and Phoenix) are six hours away from the Valley, and the nearest airport is 200 miles away. As such, you must include the long road hours before when driving to the Valley. Also, there are many attractions you may want to visit along the way, e.g., the Antelope Canyon and Grand Canyon, amongst others.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some commonly asked questions about the best time to visit Monument Valley:
How many days do you need to explore Monument Valley?
You can visit Monument Valley in a day, but the more time you allocate, the more enriching the experience. It’s best to plan for a three-day trip, including the day you drive to the Valley.
How long will it take to drive the 17-mile-long loop?
It takes 2-4 hours to complete the 17-mile-long loop if driving at the standard speed limit of 15 mph. Some places are bumpy, causing you to drive slower than the set limit.
Can you self-drive through Monument Valley?
You can drive around Monument Valley but hire a guide for a more insightful experience. They can access areas marked off-limits and provide much information about the destination.
Which is the best part of Monument Valley?
The 11 stops along the 17-mile-long loop are the best parts of Monument Valley. You can make a stop at each point for a more satisfying experience.
What’s the best time to take photos at Monument Valley?
The best time to take photos at monument valley is at sunrise or sunset. The lighting is warmer than during the day when the sun is scorching hot.
So, When Should You Visit Monument Valley?
Monument Valley, one of the hottest and farthest places in Utah, needs ample planning before visiting. The best way is to know the best time to visit Monument Valley to prepare adequately.
The spring and fall seasons are the best because the weather isn’t as hot as during the summer season. You can easily traverse the Valley in the afternoon while stopping without worrying about the scorching sun. Happy travels!